Because it’s tradition that I feel the need to tell you my favourite desserts in Hong Kong every year… and also, that I don’t get round to writing my end-of-year list until the beginning of the new one!
Mr Rech, Rech
If I had to narrow this list down to just one favourite dish of 2017, it would be this – a truly revelatory whirlwind of dessert magic at the Intercontinental Hong Kong’s revamped Alain Ducasse restaurant.
I’m not sure words can do it justice but here goes – the lightest, airiest, spun-by-fairies meringue; a smooth, silky, swoon-inducing hazelnut cream; and an intense, rich, wickedly deep chocolate sauce, all Russian-dolling each other into the most precise, perfect little dessert sandwich imaginable. How it manages to pack that much vital, heart-blooming flavour into something so ridiculously feather-light is nothing short of miraculous. The mini Mr Rech I tried (alongside the almost-as-divine Mrs Rech, which stars a more summery raspberries and mascarpone combination) is available as part of Rech’s Sunday lunch, but I have heard wondrous tales of an epic full-sized version available at dinner-time. 2018’s new year resolution is obviously to go try that!
Rech by Alain Ducasse, Lobby Level, Intercontinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 2313 2323
Hazelnut chocolate soufflé tart, Mercato
Confession: I don’t really get soufflés. Thankfully, it seems Mercato doesn’t really get them either, because this tart doesn’t have much to do with a soufflé in my book – and is all the better for it.
By definition, a soufflé is literally a load of hot air, but this delicious Frankenstein of a dessert has far more substance than that. I’d describe it more as a decadently rich chocolate fondant that has happily taken up lodgings inside a lovely buttery tart casing; slice into it and you hit peak “ooze shot” goodness, with a sea of deep molten chocolate spilling forth with unadulterated glee. Of course, you’ve then got the classic contrast of warm rivers of dark chocolate against a cold scoop of vanilla ice cream, but the real stroke of genius here is the candied hazelnuts on the side – I could eat these by the bucket-load. If you like Nutella (and if you don’t, I have questions), then this is the dessert for you.
Mercato, 8/F, California Tower, 32 D’Aguilar Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 3706 8567
Brioche “Nanterre” perdu, Terroir Parisien
Ignore the fancy name, courtesy of Yannick Alléno’s Hong Kong outpost – this is what you and me would call French toast, which was traditionally made as a way to use up stale bread by soaking it in egg, milk and sugar, and thereby turning it into an unbelievably more scrumptious sum of its parts.
It is exactly the kind of all-indulgent dessert that I can picture Nigella Lawson whipping up on one of her TV shows – padding downstairs in a super-glam dressing gown to murmur some sexy nonsense to camera about decadent leftovers and midnight snacks, topped off with a cavalcade of come-hither glances when she cracks into its shatteringly perfect caramelised crust. Crunchy on the outside, pillowy-soft on the inside (it literally oozes custardy goodness when you cut into it, in a way that’s almost indecent), this is the kind of elevated comfort food that is worth every single innuendo Nigella would undoubtedly throw at it.
Shop M20-M24, M/F, Prince’s Building, 10 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2522 9990
Chocolate moelleux, Caprice
If you see a dessert that’s made of chocolate, filled with chocolate, covered in chocolate and think “You know what, I’m not sure that’s quite enough chocolate”, then a) we’re destined to be best friends and b) let’s go share Caprice’s chocolate moelleux for our first date.
Another masterful creation from the Four Seasons Hong Kong’s pastry wunderkid Nicolas Lambert – it’s often tempting to put five desserts made by him as the whole list every year and just be done with it – this moelleux (another fancy name, this time for chocolate lava cake) is pure heaven for chocolate lovers. It features chocolate in just about every form you can think of, hitting every texture contrast you could hope for and taking them all to heady new levels of sweet sophistication. The level of detail is incredible – in addition to the molten chocolate cake, there’s also caramel, ice cream, milk chocolate espuma, crushed tonka beans, cacao nibs, an amazingly delicate lacy chocolate tuille and probably a million other things a pleb like me failed to pick up on – but without it becoming overwhelming or unnecessarily extravagant. Lambert makes flawless execution look far too easy… and taste even better.
Caprice, 6/F, Four Seasons Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 3196 8860
Grand Cru chocolate soufflé, Octavium
I know, I know – for someone that claims not to like soufflé much, it’s appearing twice as many times as you’d expect on this list. But think of this as the exception that proves the rule; the kind of textbook-perfect soufflé that puts the rest in the shade, reminding you just how blah they are 99 per cent of the rest of the time.
Really, textbook-perfect is just about the only description this dessert needs. A soufflé is the kind of classic, supposedly-simple dish that Masterchef contestants regularly have breakdowns over, but Octavium (the “private kitchen” concept from chef Umberto Bombana of Otto e Mezzo) shows you exactly how it should be done whilst shrugging a nonchalant shoulder at anyone thinking that it should ever be considered difficult in the first place. It’s heavenly light, marshmallow-fluffy and beautifully-risen, yet still drenched in pure, rich, unadulterated chocolate intensity. The masterstroke is the scoop of hazelnut ice cream on top – and the only way this dessert would be better is if that scoop was bigger.
Octavium, 8/F, One Chinachem Central, 22 Des Voeux Road Central, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2111 9395